Cerebral palsy and development are closely linked. The factors leading to the onset of cerebral palsy might occur before, during or after birth. The absence of normal developmental milestones in an infant or toddler is a common factor that could lead to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.
In the majority of cases, there is a congenital link between cerebral palsy and development; the disorder occurs as a result of factors during pregnancy. For example, the brain of the fetus might become damaged because of exposure to an infection, such as viral encephalitis or bacterial meningitis. Cerebral palsy and development difficulties also could result from complications during the birth. There is a higher risk of cerebral palsy in premature infants and those with low birth weights.
Brain damage leading to acquired cerebral palsy might occur in early childhood because of factors such as shaken baby syndrome, lead poisoning, head injury, malnutrition or meningitis. As with congenital cerebral palsy, acquiring the disorder in early childhood can lead to weakened muscle tone and impaired motor skills. Some people with cerebral palsy have difficulty with vital functions such as bowel control or breathing. An individual's speech, hearing or vision also might be negatively affected.
One connection between cerebral palsy and development is the basis for diagnosing the disorder in an infant or toddler. An individual with cerebral palsy might not display expected developmental milestones, such as sitting up on his or her own, within a normal range of time. Alternatively, an older infant or toddler might continue to display specific infant reflexes past the point where such reactions normally would be outgrown. Other potential signs of cerebral palsy could include the tendency to use primarily one side of the body or an unusual slackness or rigidity of muscle tone.
Cerebral palsy, which is a label referring to a cluster of conditions that affect physical coordination and body movement, has three main types. Spastic cerebral palsy features general difficulties in movement and overall stiffness. Athetoid, or dyskinetic, cerebral palsy involves involuntary movement. Ataxic cerebral palsy is a disturbance in sense perceptions and balance. Mixed cerebral palsy, a combination of two or more types, is common.
Two subtypes of this disorder include hemiplegic cerebral palsy, in which the limbs of only one side of the body are impaired, and quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which affects all of the individual's arms and legs. The degree of physical impairment can range from mild to severe. Secondary issues associated with cerebral palsy can include mental retardation, seizures, sleep disorders, aspiration of food or liquid into the lungs, involuntary regurgitation or osteoporosis. The brain damage leading to cerebral palsy will not become worse over time, but it is possible that some associated medical conditions could grow progressively more severe.